According to scientific analyzes that have completed the first global diagnosis of the problem, the human destruction of the living world is causing an alarming extinction of plants.
The new comprehensive study found that nearly 600 species of plants have been lost from the wild in the past 250 years. The numbers are not estimates, they are actual extinctions and it is twice that of all bird, mammal and amphibian extinctions combined. Scientists say that plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than would be expected naturally.
In May, a United Nations report estimated that one million species of animals and plants were in danger of extinction. The researchers said their analysis of all documented plant extinctions in the world showed that we must learn to avoid future extinctions.
The new figure is also four times the number of extinct plants registered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list.
"Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few could name an extinct plant," said Dr. Aelys Humphreys of Stockholm University. "This study is the first time that we have an overview of which plants are already extinct, where they have disappeared from and how fast this is happening," he added.
Lost plants include the Chilean sandalwood, which was exploited for essential oils, the banded trinitarian plant, which spent much of its life underground, and the pink-flowered Santa Elena olive tree.
The greatest losses occur on islands and in the tropics, which are home to high-value timber trees and tend to be particularly rich in plant diversity.
Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom and at Stockholm University found that 571 species of plants had disappeared in the last two and a half centuries, a number that is more than double the number of birds, mammals and amphibians. recorded as extinct, a combined total of 217 species.
This data suggests that plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than would normally be expected if humans weren't around. The researchers believe that even these numbers underestimate the actual levels of ongoing plant extinction. However, a positive fact was the evidence that some plants, once considered extinct, have been rediscovered, such as the Chilean saffron.
As BBC News reports that all life on Earth depends on plants, which provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat. Plant extinctions can lead to a complete cascade of extinctions in other organisms that depend on them, for example, insects that use plants for food and to lay their eggs.
"Plant extinction is bad news for all species," said Dr. Eimear Nic Lughadha, co-investigator and conservation scientist at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
"Millions of other species depend on plants for their survival, including humans, so knowing what plants we are losing and where they will feed from conservation programs that also target other organisms," he explained.
Rob Salguero-Gómez, from the University of Oxford, who was not part of the study, said that "understanding how, where and why of plant loss was of utmost importance, not only for ecologists but also for human societies" .
"We depend on plants directly for food, shade and building materials, and indirectly for 'ecosystem services' such as carbon fixation, oxygen creation and even improving human mental health by enjoying green spaces, "he said.
The research is published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution